That is a photo of a history book about Lower Merion Township from 1988. It was this great book that was privately printed that only had 1000 copies ever printed on the original publication, and this is the first time I’ve ever seen this book out there for sale other than on eBay. I bought it for $10 at an estate sale.
Inside the book was a treasure trove of articles mostly about things in Lower Merion Township but one about Radnor Township as well. The articles were from The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Main Line Times when it was still advertised as an independent newspaper.
I have only just started to read the book but I am sharing screenshots with all of you fellow history buffs that I hope you will find of interest. One thing I loved in particular is a screenshot about things in Gladwyne. it was obviously an old map and it was lent to the folks who put this book out by the father of a childhood friend.
There is so much about the history of the Main Line and Chester County the disappears year-by-year. This is why I love when I can get my hands on one of these really good local history books. I don’t know who owned this particular copy of this book but it’s a wonderful book, and the articles are fabulous.
4th of July. Our country’s annual birthday party. It’s not just about fireworks.
On July 4, 1776, the United States gained independence from Great Britain by the Continental Congress when 12 of the 13 “colonies” voted for the separation from Great Britain.
However, a lot of people don’t have a warm and fuzzy feelings about the 4th of July. Some people are ambivalent. Some people like myself don’t like the overt commercialism that tends to follow American holidays around.
I like and appreciate the history. I think we need to remember and appreciate our history. Is it perfect? Were things like slavery and indentured servitude acceptable during part of our history and world history for that matter? Were most women treated like chattel? Yes and yes and yes. Those things are part of our history and were (again) also part of world history at that time. We need to acknowledge that past as a different time, yet part of what formed this country.
BUT it doesn’t diminish what our founding fathers accomplished because times were different.
Yesterday I celebrated part of my 4th of July weekend at Historic Harriton House in Bryn Mawr. I have loved this magical and historical place since I was introduced to it when I was 12 by a neighbor.
Harriton House was originally known as “Bryn Mawr”, and was once the residence of Charles Thomson, the secretary of the Continental Congress. This was originally built in 1704 by Rowland Ellis, a Welsh Quaker, and was called “Bryn Mawr”, meaning “high hill.”
The history of Harriton is undeniable, as well as the connection to the founding of our country. So it was an absolutely perfect place to celebrate part of the 4th of July weekend! People were invited to picnic (and we made ice cream with an old fashioned and fully functional ice cream machine!) and there was a lovely program and music.
The program was introduced by a wonderful man I am lucky to know because we have mutual friends. Chef Walter Staib. He was proprietor of The City Tavern for decades, and most of you know him as the host of A Taste of History which you can find streaming or on PBS. A Taste of History is one of my favorite shows. I love cooking, I love history, including the history of cooking. (They are filming a new season now.)
Born in Germany, Chef Staib emigrated to America many years ago. He became a citizen, started his family here. He became a US Citizen a couple of years before the Bicentennial. And as well as loving to cook, he is a perpetual student of history. His love for the United States was the perfect was to kick off yesterday’s program which also featured this truly amazing brass ensemble called Festive Brass. I have included two snippets filmed with a phone. Sorry, not the best but I wanted to share their sound with my readers. Beautiful and festive music.
Yesterday at Historic Harriton House the program was free of charge and they asked for a free-will offering. These beloved historic sites need and deserve our support. Look no further than to the historic sites owned by the National Park Service that are either closed to tours or just closed and moldering.
Closed to tours would include the houses of my childhood in Society Hill like the Bishop White House and the Todd House, places I actually gave tours of leading up to the Bicentennial as a child. I love those houses and I helped plant the kitchen garden in the Todd House way back when. It was there I learned a deterrent for cabbage worms in the garden were marijuana plants. Seriously. Fun little fact of historical gardening.
Also closed is a place I remember being saved and restored as a child. Thaddeus Kosciuszko’s house on 3rd Street in Society Hill. Most of you probably have no clue this place exists or the historical significance. And I swear that place has been closed more years than it has been open. Also owned by the National Park Service.
The City Tavern for that matter, also owned by the National Park Service. Also shuttered now that Chef Staib is not there. That in particular, is truly prime real estate, so one would think they would be polishing up the tavern and marketing her for a new chef and restaurant in residence, right? But are they? Or will The City Tavern go the way of the Kennedy-Supplee Mansion?
Do you sense a theme? Sorry for the segue, but literally every time I go to Valley Forge I think of all the wasted potential of the historic structures. Not all have to be open for tours, but the National Park Service should be more open to restoration and adaptive reuse. I also feel the last administration in Washington harnessed the red, white, and blue of American patriotism for their own selfish ends (including abject ugliness and tyranny) and did nothing for preservation or true patriotism of any kind. And the current administration should get on the ball with preserving more of our history.
History is not something to be neglected and erased. It should be embraced, even the less savory and inconvenient parts because it is all part of how we got to be quite literally.
History, metaphorically speaking, is a living breathing thing we need to embrace and preserve. Even the parts we don’t like because when people try to erase history like it never happened, we are doomed to repeat past mistakes. Look no further that two world wars for proof of that.
Today on the 4th of July, I hope you all pause and think about our history. Think about our founding fathers who bled and fought and died for us. What they accomplished was no small feat.
And remember your favorite historic sites with even a small donation. Like Historic Harriton House in Bryn Mawr. Remember your local historical societies that help preserve our history and keep it alive.
🪶🇺🇸In Congress, July 4, 1776
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.🪶🇺🇸
I have loved the historic village of Yellow Springs down Art School Road in Chester Springs for years and years. I was first introduced to the village by my late father. He loved the art show and the antique show the village no longer hosts in the fall (but should.)
We would come out to the village, attend the art show or antique show and have lunch at the now closed Yellow Springs Inn. At first the restaurant was in the building known today as “The Washington”, then it moved to the Jenny Lind House.
Truthfully the history of Yellow Springs Village is so very interesting. As a related aside, Margaret Holman is but one of many women who played important and pivotal roles in this village over time and throughout its history. Now we add my friend Meg Veno to that list of historically important ladies. With her renovation of the Jenny Lind house and the amazing adaptive reuse that still nods to the past in process, she is bringing new life and a fresh set of ideas to Yellow Springs Village.
Restoring Jenny Lind is so positive for this magical village. And I was so glad to see people out enjoying the art show and picking up their box lunches from at the Jenny Lind today!
The restoration is not complete there are still at least a couple more months of solid work ahead of them. But today I had the privilege and honor to see the progress and how the renovation was coming along. I was literally almost reduced to tears. I had no idea that once upon a time at a Life’s Patina Barn Sale when Meg mentioned to me that she was looking for another project, and I happened to tell her that the Jenny Lind house was in bank foreclosure and the restaurant gone, that this would happen.
I was thinking today when you mention to people that a great historic asset is for sale you never know if anything will ever happen. A lot of times it doesn’t. And this time it has. And the transformation is as magical as it has been watching Loch Aerie come back to life. Completely different periods of history and styles of architecture but both have these spots in my heart.
Oh and the lunches sold are a preview of what we can expect in the cafe to be? Amazing! And it was all environmentally friendly packaging down to the disposable wooden utensils.
I am including photos I took a few years ago of the Jenny Lind when it was the restaurant so you can fully appreciate the remarkable and painstakingly gorgeous restoration. The Victorian decor of the former Yellow Springs Inn was never right for the structure although for years the restaurant was quite good.
Life’s Patina Mercantile & Cafe at the Jenny Lind House is going to be perfection.
Last evening, I attended a virtual zoom lecture via the Willows Park Preserve titled “Lost Mansions of the Main Line.” It was presented by Jeff Groff of Winterthur who is the Estate Historian there.
It was like opening the Pandora’s Box of history. It was fabulous. I wished the program had been longer. The program was primarily mansions and houses which no longer exist. Some that still exist in a mostly adaptive reuse capacity.
So I grabbed some screenshots:
I posted the screenshots to show people the coolness of the lecture and the response was amazing. So many people had memories of some of the properties, like my weird connection to the Cassatt Estate in Haverford which was discussed.
My great grandmother, Rebecca Nesbitt Gallen, who was in service back then, was the summer housekeeper to the Cassatt Family. My grandfather and one of his brothers found pieces of old bicycles in old stables or perhaps a garage and built their own ramshackle bikes out of parts and learned to ride bikes on Grays Lane. When he was in his 80s and my parents had moved us to the north side of Haverford (late 1970s), I wonder what he thought about his daughter and her family living but a minute from where his mother had been in service during the summers?
And I have another weird Cassatt connection, or my husband does. His late mother was one of the many, many Tredyffrin residents years ago who tried for years in vain to stop the development known as Chesterbrook that completely changed the face of not only the Main Line, but part of Chester County. (see this history as compiled by TEHistory.) The Cassatts’ Chesterbrook Farm
So anyway, sharing about this lecture and the response led to other things. People interested in Bloomfield (the Radnor Township estate on S. Ithan Ave that burned in the spring of 2012) and as always, La Ronda which was demolished October, 2009 in Lower Merion Township.)
I have photos of both Bloomfield and La Ronda. I chose to document both with a camera back then. La Ronda over the last few months she stood, and Bloomfield after the fire.
What I also found startling are all of the people who vaguely recall the names of some of these places, but have no idea of the history. Or locations. Or the families that lived there.
We live in such a transient world that the very context of history of an area, and the history itself is getting lost. It goes hand in hand with people don’t know what the “Main Line” is, where the name came from and where it ends ( Name came from the days of the Pennsylvania Railroad for the “Main Line of Philadelphia” or “Pennsylvania Main Line”, ends as Paoli, not Malvern or points west.) It also goes hand in hand for realtors and developers who want to call Malvern and points west “Main Line” or things properly in Downingtown “Chester Springs” or something sitting on Route 3 “Radnor Hunt.”
The history matters. The facts and people and places give said history context. Maybe it’s me, but how can you want to put down roots in a community and not have a clue as to how that community came to exist? Or what are area traditions and beloved celebrations and why? Why certain non-profits have specific fundraisers?
Now more than ever, our history is important, along with the context that goes with it. COVID19 has seriously stressed out especially the smaller non-profits. Big non-profit machines will survive the economic fall-out of COVID19, but our small non-profits need our support. Here’s my list of some I think we all should show the love to and whom I am supportive of:
I will note that the Jeff Groff Lost Mansions of the Main Line lecture will be given via zoom and the Chester County Historical Society on May 12th. It’s free, but if you are not a member a small donation would be nice.
Also, there is a Lost Gardens of the Main Line lecture which will be given via zoom and Jenkins Arboretum on March 18th. It is also a Jeff Groff lecture (and I can’t wait!) Also a free event, but if you don’t already support Jenkins, consider a small donation.
All of the institutions I named are wonderful, and offer very reasonable memberships. There are many more I didn’t name, these are just some of my favorites.
Wandering back to Lower Merion Township today. Yes, I do that on occasion, although these days it’s mostly virtually. I know some people who read my blog and visit the blog’s Facebook page are occasionally outraged when I don’t write about either Chester County or whatever they think I should be writing about. But life journeys are individual, and kind of like my writing journey, yes?
Growing up in Lower Merion, one of the things I loved most were the homes and the gardens. Stately, modest, actual estates, twins, cottages, mansions, and everything in between. Back in those days, the history of the area mattered. And the gardens were glorious whether large or small.
But then, October 1, 2009, Addison Mizner’s La Ronda was demolished. I was there with many others outside the gates. I documented it in photos. She was such a gorgeous structure. So historic. Part of the history of the area, yet even as a historic resource, she was torn down and exists only in memories and photographs.
When La Ronda was demolished, I knew deep down in my heart that Lower Merion was no longer the place for me. It had completely at that moment become about people and how much money they had, and not much else. When La Ronda came down I realized no property was safe or valued there. It was a sad realization.
Over the years I have continued to document notable properties. People have the right to sell to whomever they choose. People have the right to demolish homes great, large, wonderful, small, whatever. But I still lament the people who can’t see the value of the architectural history of an area, and the impact it has. Well another home popped up on a mental endangered list (as in my mind and opinion, I don’t know if it is on an actual list anywhere) because of a Historic Commission agenda in Lower Merion for February 22nd:
Sigh. 651 Black Rock Road. They say it’s Gladwyne, but it’s actually Bryn Mawr. I knew who lived there although they were not friends. Of course people wish to downsize and move on. But for this house to be facing the fate of the wrecking ball is just so tragic. This house is spectacular, with mature gardens and an amazing property and pool.
If you look at all the photos, ok the kitchen is a little dated, and perhaps the bathrooms to the taste of some, but this property and home are spectacular. Quite literally, they don’t build them like this anymore. And the gardener in me wonders about plants that may have been there since the house was built.
So according to Lower Merion’s website, this is in Commissioner Scott Zelov’s ward? He was a champion of saving Stoneleigh and once upon a time against eminent domain in Ardmore (it’s why he got elected originally and I know, I was there), will he have an opinion on this if it proceeds to demolition? But will it matter?
Nope. It won’t. People have the right to demolish. Sadly.
Historic preservation can’t just be a vague idea, it actually has to happen. It has to matter. And in Lower Merion, starting way before La Ronda got bulldozed, it ceased to matter. Lower Merion’s current manager was West Chester Borough’s Manager before ascending to the plum position of Lower Merion Township Manager. And although I have nothing against the man personally, he always appeared to me to be pro-development over other things. And the current Director of Building and Planning is someone I watched climb the ladder at Lower Merion. And I have always found him pro development over anything else. He won’t like me for mentioning this but I sat through YEARS of meeting watching him flip his hair like Farrah Fawcett and present developer’s plans like he worked for them, does anyone else remember?
Anyway, the house is still standing as of now, but this is on an agenda and according to Lower Merion there is a demolition permit. What will happen when all of the old and historic houses and their gardens are gone? In Lower Merion and elsewhere?
Historic preservation isn’t really going to matter until it matters to all of us consistently across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. And I do not believe every old house can and should be saved, but when you see houses like this one you have to wonder because beautiful places like this is what drew people to the Main Line in the first place. Until then, why preserve when you can demolish?
Thanks for stopping by and stay safe, roads are icy.
One of my favorite places around here is Hershey’s Mill Rd. Such a cool place. So many great old farm houses, barns, and the road is an old country kind of road that meanders.
This weekend on Sunday we went up Hershey’s Mill to Greenhill Road. We had a car behind us so I couldn’t get a photo but it looked like the funky mill property (and I mean that in a good way not bad FYI) on the corner with the sort of “gate house” garage entrance into the property is being restored! It looks like it obviously changed hands. This is very exciting and I can’t wait to see what happens. I love historic preservation in action! It would be cool if someone like Jeff Devlin had a hand in the restoration, but I know nothing…but that is what I would do….
I do not know who purchased it but all of the overgrown everything is gone and it has been stripped down and you can actually see the house for the first time (or the first time for me.) Compass the real estate company said it was a barn on their old listing…but this was a mill…. the Hershey’s Mill. How cool.
I never knew who lived there. I remembered the last owner did not want East Goshen to mess with dam (now drained or breached or whatever the term is.) Sometimes it looks like East Goshen is working on it when you drive by, but mostly not. I guess it is supposed to end up some sort of nature preserve thing and they are dealing with the flooding?
A local official called it the toughest decision he had had to make in three decades, one that East Goshen Township, Chester County, has been confronting for several years.
Tuesday night, the board of supervisors voted to breach the town’s two dams, both deemed potentially dangerous by the state – choosing financial considerations over the fervor of some residents who wanted to preserve what they consider landmarks of their town.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection said years ago that the recreational dams, which have been part of the town in various iterations for centuries, could fail during a major rainfall. Township supervisors had to decide how to meet new state standards.
Supervisors told the 80 or so people gathered at the Goshen Fire Company banquet hall that they had to make the best decision for all the township’s 18,000 residents.
I have never read a comprehensive history of Hershey’s Mill, but that community for seniors with a golf course has a brief history of Hershey’s Mill on a website. This place seems like it was empty for a couple of years which is a shame because I think it’s magical.
I know whomever bought it had to clear overgrown trees and what once were shrubs to restore the place. That is common sense. I just hope the garages (the covered entrance) are going to be saved and restored too. It’s all part of the charm.
“*Update: Hershey Mill was converted in the early 1960’s by a wealthy Californian. Lucille Ball came to one of the parties he held when the mill was newly renovated. He died soon after the renovation – enroute back to California. The Estate was in probate for years to figure out the ownership. The original wooden wheel was removed and reportedly put in pieces under the brick floor on the ground floor. The three car garage contained chauffeur’s quarters and two 1961 Imperials. The Paddock Pool was one of the first in-ground pools in the area.“
So it was owned once upon a time by a wealthy Californian? And Lucille Ball coming here to a party makes sense with something else a neighbor who is a lifetime resident told me:
“When I was a little girl, Grace Kelly and her family would come out from the city to spend time at the mill house as their country home! They vacationed in the summer in Ocean City, NJ but spent many days and weekends at Hershey’s Mill.“
Anyway…if anyone has history to share, I am all ears. I love this place and I hope it becomes a happy and vibrant home (with a garden) once again. This place is a local treasure.
I am also delighted to have something fun to write about versus the past three months.
Here is hoping East Goshen actually finishes the park or whatever they are supposed to create.
Today I picked up some things from a storage locker sale I had purchased. One thing was a limited edition book published in 1965 when I was a year old. Philadelphia: The Unexpected City by Laurence Lafore and Sara Lee Lippincott. The publisher was Doubleday. It was a copy of the “Philadelphia Edition.”